Thursday, February 25, 2010
A request went out from my aunt this week. It was a plea for donations of gently used clothing to be collected and distributed by the church she attends. Her congregation is sponsoring a poverty-stricken community in a coal mining town nestled in the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia. These are people who are suffering in a way that you and I can't imagine, and every car load of hand-me-downs is received like goodies from Santa on Christmas morning. I jumped at the opportunity to empty out closets and maybe do a little good in the process.
As spring is starting to tease us, this is the perfect time to purge. It's a time when all I want to do is take each and every piece of black clothing I own and set them ablaze. I want to grab all of my shirts that are heavier than seersucker and run them through a shredder. I have become desperate to trade brown pants in a heavy tweed for butter cream yellow halter tops and linen pants. The end of winter is a time when you can safely say that all little boys and girls have certainly outgrown their last summer's wardrobe.
I was in a mad dash around the house to get rid of anything that hadn't seen the light of day in a year's time and sometimes less. Do these pants make my butt look big? Gone! Could this shirt double as a maternity top? It's outta here! Just when I thought I had excavated our closets down to a smidgen short of the center of the Earth, my husband said, "What about the wardrobe in the garage?"
When we moved my mom into our house five years ago, we bought a spartan wardrobe for the garage to use as an overflow storage space in a feeble attempt keep up with her Olympian shopping skills. I probably haven't looked in it since it was constructed and installed because it is always blocked by bicycles and paint easels. The top of the wardrobe has become home to assorted radios, books, and boxes whose content remain a mystery. I just always assumed it was empty.
I cleared a pathway to the wardrobe, and when I opened its doors, I was met with a familiar smell - the smell of my mother still lingering even a year and a half after she died. The smell was a mix of Elizabeth Taylor's "Passion", baby powder, and just the undefinable "mama scent". I was more than surprised to find that the wardrobe was completely stuffed with her church dresses, pantsuits, and overcoats, and standing alone like a stag at a middle school dance was my father's sixty-year-old army uniform.
I stood there for a moment, flooded with emotion. Didn't we give away all of my mother's clothes soon after she died? How did I miss this stash? I looked through the contents of the wardrobe remembering every time I saw her wearing the fancy, purple dresses (her favorite color) and perfectly matched jackets and trousers. I was tempted to shut the doors and keep the last remnants of my mother's earthly possessions for myself.
I didn't, though. I pulled out the clothes one by one and loaded them into my car. I reached for a big arm full of her winter coats, and it was almost as if I was giving her one last bear hug when I pressed the fabric against my face. As I was fighting back the tears, I actually started to smile as I thought about the lucky folks on the receiving end of this bounty. Without a doubt, the congregation of women at this rural mountain church will be the fanciest in the whole state of West Virginia.